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The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West and the Future of the Holy City
By Dore Gold
372 pages; $27.95
Jerusalem has long been a lightning rod for conflict among the three monotheistic faiths. For thousands of years, its wheat-colored dust has been drenched with the blood of loyal defenders of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Wearing the hats of historian, archeologist, theologian and political analyst - and wearing them well - Dore Gold provides a short but thorough tour of Jerusalem's complex history. He demonstrates persuasively that the interests of Jews, Christians and Muslims there were always safeguarded best when Jews were the city's custodians. He also persuades that the very thought of the city changing hands again could reignite brutal interfaith bloodshed.
Gold, a former ambassador to the UN, explains the deep Jewish love for Jerusalem throughout history. As the city passed from one kingdom to the next (Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad, Mameluke, Crusader, etc.), Jews maintained it as their eternal capital. Jews face Jerusalem during prayer; they continue to recite from Psalms 137:5 - "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither."
The Fight for Jerusalem
explains that while the holy city is also important to Christians, the position is not as unified. Gold cites three main schools within Christianity: The Supersessionists question Jerusalem's significance after the coming of Jesus; the Incarnationalists see it as sacred because it was home to Jesus; and the Restorationists - the Christian Zionists - seek to repopulate it with Jews.
Jerusalem is also the third holiest place in Islam. One hadith
(oral tradition) states that "one prayer in the Aksa Mosque is worth a thousand prayers." Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jerusalem to receive the laws of Islam. They even prayed toward the city for a short time.
Gold notes, however, that the Muslim position on Jerusalem is also conflicting. Jerusalem was an obscure backwater during the Abbasid era (750-945). Indeed, it was never the capital of an Islamic empire. Islamic scholar Taqiyy al-Din ibn Taymiyya (1263 - 1328) ruled it inappropriate to pray toward Jerusalem. He stated that whoever "regards the rock as the qibla
[direction of prayer] and prays toward it is a renegade apostate."
Broadly speaking, the Muslim world grew enraged over Christian or Jewish attempts to control Jerusalem, but often neglected the city when other religions were uninterested in its conquest. This changed, of course, with the Zionist movement.
GOLD REVEALS the surprising fact that Jerusalem, during the nascent Zionist movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries, had a Jewish majority. Jews comprised nearly 50 percent of the population in 1842 and some 65% in 1914.
One man responsible for making Jerusalem a Muslim rallying cry in the early 20th century was its mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. He falsely claimed that Jews sought to "take possession" of its Muslim holy sites. When he stoked the outbreak of Palestinian riots, the British forced him to flee. After stints in Lebanon and Iraq, he moved to Germany and became, as Gold notes, "a close ally of the Nazi cause."
While Husseini failed to prevent a Jewish homeland, the city had become so contested that the Jewish Agency was forced to accept an internationalized Jerusalem in 1947. The Arab world rejected this, making Jerusalem a zero-sum game.
During the 1948 war, Jordan's Arab Legion evicted the Old City's Jewish population, looted their homes, desecrated synagogues and set the Jewish Quarter afire. Gold cites one Jordanian colonel as saying, "The Jewish Quarter was densely populated with Jews... I embarked, therefore, on the shelling of the Quarter with mortars, creating harassment and destruction." For 19 years, Jerusalem's Jews were barred from the Western Wall, which was under Jordan's control. Indeed, both Christians and Jews found Jordanian rule discriminatory. Gold explains how Christian institutions were prevented from buying land, while their schools were forced to close on Fridays, rather than Sundays.
Jordan's control of Jerusalem ended with the 1967 Six Day War. Israel's leaders hoped King Hussein would sit the war out. However, Jordan launched 6,000 artillery shells into Jewish Jerusalem, again causing indiscriminate death and destruction. Israel captured the entirety of Jerusalem on June 8, 1967, in what can only be seen as a defensive war.
After the war, Israel adopted the Protection of Holy Places Law protecting churches, mosques and synagogues alike. Israel helped rebuild some churches and allowed Jordan to continue administration of Muslim holy sites. Indeed, Gold demonstrates how Israeli laws and practices made Jerusalem a city for all faiths.
WHILE JERUSALEM became a PLO symbol, Gold notes that neither the original PLO covenant of 1964 nor the 1968 version mentioned it. Still, Yasser Arafat, who took over the PLO in 1968, made the city a central cause. Accordingly, it played an important role during the 1978 Camp David Accord negotiations (although its status was deferred) and the Oslo peace process.
When US president Bill Clinton pushed Palestinians and Israelis toward a final peace agreement, the issue of Jerusalem became increasingly thorny. By 2000, Arafat was denying that the Jewish Temple even existed. As Gold explains, he "moved the goalposts of historical truth," making it a "debatable matter of religious belief rather than historical fact." The Palestinian religious authority also excavated illegally inside the Temple Mount, and even planned to import water from the Zamzam well (holy water from Saudi Arabia). As Gold observes, this would have elevated the Temple Mount to "a status comparable to that of Mecca."
In the end, prime minister Ehud Barak and Clinton offered Arafat sovereignty over the Temple Mount (with Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall). They also proposed "shared functional sovereignty over the issue of excavation." But this wasn't enough for Arafat. In 2000, Gold writes, he launched the second intifada, which he tied "directly to the fight for Jerusalem."
Gold posits that once the doors are opened for things long believed to be out of reach, "historical forces are unleashed, often resulting in a furious wave of violence... The Camp David proposals reopened precisely such a historical door."
Things changed when George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001. Bush froze talks as long as Palestinian violence continued. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. The author quotes numerous Muslim extremists today who talk of conquering Jerusalem. The deluded president of Iran held "Jerusalem Day" in 2005, and declared his intent to "wipe Israel off the map." Hamas members declare, "Islam began in Mecca and Medina and will end in Jerusalem." Hizbullah believes, "the liberation of Jerusalem is the preface for liberating the world."
These violent dreams stand in stark contrast to today's Jerusalem, which ensures religious freedom for all inhabitants. Accordingly, Gold asserts that the city must remain under Israeli control because Israel has "already proven its tolerant outlook on Jerusalem and its holy sites." The Fight for Jerusalem
argues that the international community should support a stable Jerusalem under Jewish control because it has a "vested interest in assuring that Jerusalem does not turn into a spark igniting the entire region."
The writer, a former US Treasury intelligence analyst, is director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center, and author of Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror.